March 4 – Day 144 – High-Flying Panthers

It’s another Sunday Funday in the NHL, as there’s a solid seven games on today’s schedule. With half of those games happening before prime time, you can spread your hockey throughout the entire day!

The action starts at 3 p.m. when a pair of games drop the puck (Nashville at Colorado [SN] and Philadelphia at Florida [TVAS]), followed an hour later by Chicago at Anaheim (NHLN). Vegas at New Jersey gets underway at 5 p.m., while a pair of tilts (Detroit at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Winnipeg at Carolina [SN]) waits until the usual 7 p.m. starting time. Finally, Columbus at San Jose closes out the evening’s festivities with their 9 p.m. tilt. All times Eastern.

In the list of today’s most intriguing narratives, I have only two games to offer – neither of which have exceedingly exciting headlines.

  • Nashville at Colorado: Now’s as good a time as any to remind you that in the F Matt Duchene-C Kyle Turris trade, Ottawa was supposed to be the team getting the talent upgrade. Turns out the Sens were wrong.
  • Vegas at New Jersey: D Jonathon Merrill was selected by Vegas during the expansion draft from the Devils, the organization he spent the first five years of his professional career with.

However, neither of those games really seem all that exciting to me. Instead, I’d much rather travel down to South Florida to see if these Panthers are for real or not.


There have been few teams better than the 34-20-11 Flyers in the last month of action. Since February 3, Philadelphia has earned an impressive 10-1-3 record to catapult itself into second place in the Metropolitan Division.

A major reason for the Flyers’ recent success has been their effort on the defensive end, which is wild to think about considering 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 8-7-3 G Michal Neuvirth are both on injured reserve to force four different goaltenders into action in Philly’s last 14 games.

However, a goaltender’s success almost always starts with the defense playing in front of him, and the Flyers have been pretty darn good in their own end. Led by D Shayne Gostisbehere (two blocks per game since February 3), D Robert Hagg (3.5 hits per game in Philly’s last 14 games) and D Ivan Provorov (nine takeaways over this run), Philadelphia has allowed only 31.14 shots against per game over its last 14 games – the eighth-best mark in the NHL since February 3.

That brings us back to the Flyers’ goaltending situation. Since arriving from Detroit, 3-1-1 G Petr Mrazek has been the Flyers’ starter. However, following his 7-6 shootout loss yesterday in Tampa, it would seem likely that 2-1-0 G Alex Lyon will be between the pipes today. He’s started two of Philly’s last 14 games, posting a .921 save percentage and 2.55 GAA to improve his season marks to a .903 save percentage and 2.88 GAA.

Of course, all this talk about the defense doesn’t mean the Flyers don’t know what to do with the puck on their sticks. In fact, Philly has scored 3.36 goals per game during this run, the (t)ninth-best mark in the NHL since February 3.

At the helm of this attack is none other than F Claude Giroux (8-11-19 totals since February 3) and Gostisbehere (0-15-15 in Philly’s past 14 games), both of whom are averaging more than a point per game during this Flyers hot streak. Giroux and Gostisbehere have united to score eight times in the past month, including the defenseman’s last three assists.

The 31-25-6 Panthers have been equally good since returning from a five-game, nine-day road trip, as they’re currently riding a five-game winning streak that includes victories over Washington, Pittsburgh, Toronto and New Jersey.

The biggest reason for Florida’s surge? The incredible play of 11-7-1 G Roberto Luongo. Even though he’s faced a terrible 33.4 shots against per game since February 22 (the 12th-worst mark in the NHL in that time) Luongo has posted a solid .922 save percentage and 2.71 GAA in his five starts to lead the Panthers to allowing a (t)third-best 2.4 goals against per game in that time. Luongo’s season marks now read as a .927 save percentage and 2.58 GAA.

Florida’s offense has also been stellar in the past week or so, scoring an average of 3.8 goals per game since February 22 – the fifth-most in the league in that time. C Aleksander Barkov (4-4-8 totals since February 22), W Evgeni Dadonov (3-5-8 over this run) and F Nick Bjugstad (1-4-5 during this winning streak) have been major parts of this surge, as they’ve all averaged at least a point per game over Florida’s past five games and show no sign of slowing down.

For those that like rubber games, today’s finale of the Flyers and Panthers’ three-game series is the one for you. So far, each team has hosted one game and earned a victory. Philadelphia won October 17’s game at Wells Fargo Center 5-1 (Neuvirth earned First Star honors with his 40-save performance), while the Panthers earned a 3-2 victory at BB&T Center on December 28 (F Jonathan Huberdeau provided the Panthers’ game-winning goal in the second period) to even the series at 1-1-0.

There’s much to be gained for both teams by earning two points today, but the most noticeable impact on the standings occurs if Florida emerges as today’s victor. Should the Panthers do anything better than lose in regulation, there’s a chance they could jump both Carolina and Columbus for the second wild card. For that to happen, both the Hurricanes and Jackets must lose in regulation today. Similarly, if the Panthers win while Carolina and Columbus earn only a point apiece, the Florida would advance into the East’s eight seed.

No matter what happens to Philadelphia today, it’s not budging from its spot as the Metropolitan’s second-best club. However, the Flyers can pull into a tie with division-leading Washington with two points, though the Capitals would win that tiebreaker with a game in hand.

There’s also a lot of action in Philly’s rear view mirror, starting with intrastate rival Pittsburgh. With today’s game being the Flyers’ game in hand on the Penguins, they’ll surely want to improve on their one-point advantage to ensure home-ice in the first round of the playoffs.

I’m expecting nothing short of a stellar game today between these clubs. However, the fact that the Flyers played to a hard-fought shootout loss yesterday while Florida was inactive, not to mention Lyon being in net will likely play a major role in this tilt. I think the Panthers earn two points today.

With three goals in the first period, the Washington Capitals beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Caps wasted no time in taking control of this game. With D Travis Dermott in the penalty box for holding F Jay Beagle at the 2:43 mark, Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov (Third Star C Nicklas Backstrom and First Star D John Carlson) scored a wrist shot only 67 seconds later to give Washington an early edge. Though F Zach Hyman (D Roman Polak) was able to level the game for Toronto only 1:30 later, an W Alex Ovechkin (RW Tom Wilson and Backstrom) wrister at the 6:19 mark gave Washington a lead it would not yield for the rest of the night.

That fact was cemented with 3:40 remaining in the first period when Backstrom (Kuznetsov and Carlson) scored what proved to be the game-winning goal. After F Dominic Moore earned himself a delay of game penalty at the 15:28 mark for launching the puck over the glass, Backstrom dug out a wrister in the crease to give Washington a 3-1 advantage.

For those wondering, the Capitals’ power play converted both its opportunities tonight, further proving it deserves every bit of its ranking as fifth-best after converting 22.5 percent on the season.

At the 7:22 mark of the second period, C Nazem Kadri (F Patrick Marleau and Dermott) scored a wrister to pull the Maple Leafs back within a goal, but Carlson’s (F Chandler Stephenson and Beagle) wrister only 43 seconds later returned an insurance goal to Washington’s back pocket. LW Jakub Vrana (Kuznetsov and D Dmitry Orlov) cleaned up the game’s scoring with 9:11 remaining in the second frame, scoring a wrister to set the 5-2 final score.

G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 27-of-29 shots faced (.931 save percentage), leaving the loss to G Frederik Andersen, who saved 20-of-25 (.8). At the whistle following Vrana’s goal, Andersen was lifted in favor of G Curtis McElhinney, who saved all nine shots he faced in 28:49 of action for no decision.

To be the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series is to be a winner lately. The 78-47-19 hosts have won their fourth-straight in the series, taking a 26-point advantage over the roadies.

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